Runner Touched by Live Ball
You should read this article in tandem with its companion, Batter Touched by Live Ball. Originally I had just one article that covered both scenarios because there is so much overlap between them. I changed my mind, though, but I'm still be keeping a tight connection. In fact, in the Rules Reference section, I've included the rules for batter touched by a live ball because there is so much in common.
In almost all cases when a base runner (or batter-runner) is touched by a live batted ball, you have interference. The touch does not need to be intentional. If a runner is touched by a live batted ball, that's interference. Dead ball, runner is out, and other runners return.
But there are a handful of important exceptions that you need to learn to recognize, so let's focus on those cases where the runner is not out when touched by a live batted ball.
Unfortunately, nowhere else in the rule book has a straightforward rule been made more complicated than necessary. To reference this single situation of a runner touched by a live batted ball, you're forced to do a gymnastic mashup of six rules — 5.06(c)(6), 5.05(b)(4), 5.05(a)(4), 5.09(b)(3), 5.09(b)(7), and 6.01(a)(11). You might be tempted to just hire a lawyer, but I think we've got you covered.
We're going to cover two areas:
Runner touched by a batted ball
As we said, any runner touched by a live batted ball has committed interference and is out. The ball is dead. The batter-runner is awarded first base (unless he is the one touched by the batted ball), and other runners advance only if forced. Let's focus on the exceptions:
- The runner is not out, however, if he is touched by a batted ball after it passes through or by an infielder (except the pitcher). We're talking about when a base runner is passing behind the infielder while fielder is making a play on the ball, but the infielder then misplays the ball. The misplayed ball passes through the infielder's legs, or by him on either side, and then touches the runner. This is not interference. The ball is live. Play on. However (this is important), when you see this, be sure to give the safe sign to signal that you saw what happened and you're calling it nothing. This will save you arguments.
- There is a similar situation when, again, the runner is passing behind the vicinity of an infielder playing on a batted ball (again, ignore the pitcher), but instead of getting the ball cleanly, the fielder deflects the ball and the deflected ball touches the runner. Again, this is not interference. Live ball. Play on. And again, signal that you saw it.
Note 1. Exception to the exception: If, in your judgment, the base runner intentionally touches a batted ball that is misplayed or deflected by a fielder, you should ignore the exception, kill the ball and call the runner out.
Note 2. The concept of "step-and-reach": When judging the fielder's "protection" from interference on a misplayed or deflected ball, there is the generally accepted notion of the "step-and-reach." That is, on a misplayed ball that remains close to the fielder, the fielder is allowed a small halo of protection while he tries to retrieve the ball. But all the fielder gets in terms of protection is a step and a reach. This step-and-reach is not a real measurement, nor will you find it in the rule book; rather, it's the literal description of a fielding gesture. You learn this one on the field.
- Importantly, these interference rules also apply when a fair batted ball strikes an umpire (before passing an infielder). In this situation (Umpire Interference), the ball is dead, the batter is awarded first base, and runners (if any) advance if forced. If the umpire is touched by a batted ball when positioned beyond where fielders are stationed (for example, with no runners on base), this is nothing. Live ball. Play on.
- If a fair batted ball touches two runners (one after the other), then only the first runner touched is called out for interference. This is because the ball is dead the instant it touches the first runner and you can't then get outs with a dead ball. However, the second runner must return to his last acquired base.
- A runner is not out if he is touched by a batted ball that is declared an infield fly, so long as he remains in contact with a base. If the runner is not in contact with a base when touched by an infield fly, then both he and the batter are out – him for interference, and the batter on the infield fly.
Note 3. Only on an infield fly is the base a safe haven for runners touched by a live batted ball. On all other batted balls, the base runner must make way for a fielder attempting to field a fly ball, and must not allow himself to be touched by the ball, even if he has to step off the bag to do so.
- If a runner (or umpire) is touched by a batted ball over foul territory, this is not interference. This is just a foul ball. You will see this sometimes when there is a runner on third; runners on third are taught to lead off in foul territory. With respect to umpires, you will see this at first base when, with no runners on, the umpire is in the "A" postion.
Again, this is actually a pretty straightforward rule if approached systematically. The rule is made cloudy by the way the rules for the exceptions are written. The best approach is to recognize that a runner (or batter-runner) touched by a batted ball is out for interference. Then, learn the exceptions.
Runner touched by a thrown ball
In contrast to a batted ball, being hit by a thrown ball is not interference (it's nothing – live ball, play on) unless the runner intentionally makes contact with the thrown ball or otherwise hinders or impedes a fielder's opportunity to field or throw the ball.
In short, while interference with a batted ball does not require the act to be intentional, interference with a thrown ball requires an intentional act on the part of the runner.
If a runner is touched by a thrown ball and you judge the contact to be intentional, then call "Time" (dead ball), call the offending runner out, and return other runners (if any) to the base last legally acquired at the time the interference occurred.